BizHizCol Webinar: Textiles in business history (double feature)

13/04/2021 16.00 UK

Register here

Presenters: Muwei Chen (Beijing Foreign Studies University) and Alka Raman  (London School of Economics)
Chair: Ashton Merck (Duke University)

A Collective Approach to Pollution Treatment of small firms led by Trade Association: the Kyoto black dyeing industry in the 1970s

Muwei Chen (Beijing Foreign Studies University)

The problem of pollution is a typical example of an external diseconomy that takes an important position in the relationship between the environment and private firms. Private firms incline to prioritize economic profit over environmental protection, thus, relying on firms’ initiatives to treat pollution seems impracticable. Especially for small firms, which are financially and technically less capable.

Japan has encouraged small and medium sized firms to deal with pollution collectively since the 1970s, since SMEs had generated a large amount of pollution. However, previous studies have rarely uncovered how the collective approach had been undertaken. What kind of barriers did the small firms meet? How did they solve them? Why did the small firms choose one solution over another?

This study aims to address these gaps by exploring how small firms collectively dealt with pollution under the leadership of trade associations. This study examines the case of a local industry specializing in black dyeing in Kyoto and its surrounding areas. The group of small dyeing firms, mostly with an average of 10 employees, have successfully solved their wastewater pollution in a decade. This is largely attributable to the collective attempts initiated by the Kyoto Kurozome Industrial Cooperative Association.

This case study reflected the situation of small firms in the 1970s when social and governmental pressure on pollution treatment was increasing drastically while legislation and regulations on pollution were still in formation. The misalignment between private and public interests was affected by the change of regulation, recognition, and technological availability. As a result, the small firms were gradually grouped into the leaders of the association, the pioneers, the late movers, and the outsiders. The trade association had to uniform the different interests of the small firms in order to achieve the collective approach to pollution treatment.

On the other hand, this case study also has its specialties that may further our understanding of the possibilities and restrictions of this trade association-led collective approach. These may include the supportive Kyoto prefectural government, the interdependence of stakeholders on the supply chain due to the social division of labor, and the industrial crises emerged since 1976.

The conclusions are as follows. First, the collective attempts compensated for the risk that the relatively loose regulation environment for SMEs could lead to reduced motivation to treat pollution. Second, the association constructed a regulative and normative environment to facilitate peer supervision based on horizontal inter-firm relationship. Third, the negotiation included diverse stakeholders, nevertheless, the failure to adopt the new dyeing method was attributed to the influence from the supply chain that preferred economic profit in the short run.

From imitation to industrialisation: Evolution of cloth quality in the British cotton industry, 1740-1820

Alka Raman (London School of Economics)

The introduction of Indian printed and painted cotton textiles into Britain in the late seventeenth century led to immediate imitations of these goods by British manufacturers. Did the process of imitation of these foreign benchmark products lead to the adoption of a specific trajectory of technological growth within the British cotton industry? This paper contributes to a topic central to interpretations of British industrialisation, pathways to technological change, and eventually innovations, using qualitative empirical material analysis. It highlights material knowledge transfer in the absence of codified means of knowledge exchange and identifies imitation as a key channel for innovation and technological change. Textual evidence from contemporary entrepreneurs, merchants, manufacturers as well as observers of the British cotton industry indicates that manufacturers in the early British cotton industry were concerned about cloth quality vis-à-vis Indian cottons and that there was a shift towards improvements in cloth quality, especially for the making of the cotton warp yarn. These texts suggest the hypothesis that there was a shift towards finer cotton textiles in Britain, via attempts to make the cotton warp yarn match Indian quality. With a novel dataset of surviving British and Indian textiles of the period, the paper puts this hypothesis to test and concludes that between 1746 and 1850, there was an increase in the quality of British cottons leading to a convergence with the quality of handmade Indian cottons. Extant literature mentions learning from pre-existing products but what this learning entailed and whether imitation of benchmark products stimulated technological innovations are questions that have remained unexplored. While British industrialisation has been studied from a variety of viewpoints, the impact of pre-existing goods, whose replication by machinery effectively constitutes the shift towards industrialisation, is a perspective previously ignored. This paper shows how competitive ambition amongst British manufactures to produce goods that rivalled Indian cottons steered the trajectory of mechanical innovations in the British cotton industry. Using empirical microscopic analysis of the historical material textile sources, I demonstrate that technological change in the British cotton industry was guided by the quest to match the cloth quality of handmade Indian cottons.

2 thoughts on “BizHizCol Webinar: Textiles in business history (double feature)”

  1. Just tried to register but the Eventbrite site says that sales have ended….


    1. Sorry, Jeannette we only republish – worthwhile getting in touch with Bernardo or Adam or others from the Business History Collective to check why they closed it early. Not aware they did this before – it might just be maximum Zoom numbers reached.


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